22 February 2018

North Korea

North Korea's closing Olympics delegation includes man blamed for deadly ship sinking

KONFRONTASI-North Korea will send another high-level delegation to South Korea for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics closing ceremony, officials said on Thursday, including the man blamed for the 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors.

The latest visit by officials from the normally reclusive North will coincide with a U.S. delegation led by President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.

The North Korean delegation will be led by Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the Party Central Committee, and will stay for three days from Sunday, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said in a statement.

Kim Yong Chol is in charge of inter-Korean affairs in the North. He was also chief of the North’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, a top military intelligence body, which Seoul blamed for the deadly sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean navy corvette, in 2010.

The United States and South Korea blacklisted Kim Yong Chol for supporting the North’s nuclear and missile programs in 2010 and 2016 respectively. However, South Korea decided to accept the North’s Olympics delegations for the good of the Games, a presidential official in Seoul said on condition of anonymity.

The official said South Korea had informed the United States of the pending visit and they were in talks about Kim Yong Chol’s entry into the South.

Ri Son Gwon will travel with Kim Yong Chol for the Games closing ceremony. Ri, also involved in inter-Korean affairs, accompanied North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister on her visit for the Games opening ceremony this month.

 

The eight-member delegation, including six staffers, will travel by road and will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in during their visit, the Blue House official said, without specifying when.

Ivanka Trump will dine with Moon at the Blue House on Friday night and she has no plans to meet North Korean officials, a senior U.S. administration official said.

“There is no official opportunity for them to meet,” the official said.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence attended the Games opening ceremony and had been scheduled to meet Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, before the North Koreans canceled at the last minute, U.S. officials said.

North Korea warns US against ruining rapprochement with South

KONFRONTASI-North Korea says the United States will be responsible for the potential ruining of a recent rapprochement between Pyongyang and Seoul if America resumes its military drills with South Korea.

Washington and Seoul have agreed to put off joint military exercises involving tens of thousands of troops from the US and South Korea until after the February 9-25 Pyeongchang Olympic Games — being hosted by Seoul.

Pence raises prospect of talks with North Korea alongside 'intensified' pressure

KONFRONTASI-Comments by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence suggest the United States may be looking more favorably at diplomatic engagement with North Korea as South Korea considers a rare summit with its neighbor and long-time foe.

Pence said in a newspaper interview the United States and South Korea had agreed on terms for further diplomatic engagement with North Korea, first with Seoul and then possibly leading to direct talks with Washington.

The prospect of talks comes after months of tension between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, with U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un trading insults and threats of destruction amid tightening sanctions from the United Nations.

Speaking to the Washington Post aboard Air Force Two on his way home from the Games, Pence said Washington would keep up its “maximum pressure campaign” against Pyongyang but would be open to possible talks at the same time.

“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Pence was quoted on Sunday as saying. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday it was too early to judge whether latest developments represented the start of a diplomatic process.

“We’ve said for some time it’s really up to the North Koreans to decide when they’re ready to engage with us in a sincere way, a meaningful way,” Tillerson told reporters in Egypt.

“They know what has to be on the table for conversations.”

Trump has at times questioned the purpose of further talks with the North after years of negotiations by previous U.S. administrations failed to halt the North’s weapons programs.

Last year, North Korea conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions as it pursues its goal of developing a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching the United States.

Relations between the two Koreas have improved in recent weeks, with Pyongyang sending its highest ranking delegation ever to attend the Winter Olympic Games, being held in the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang.

The visit included an invitation for South Korean President Moon Jae-in to travel to Pyongyang for talks. Such a meeting, if it came about, would mark the first inter-Korea summit since 2007.

A South Korean government official said Seoul’s stance was that separate talks with North Korea by South Korea and the United States should both lead to the denuclearization of the North while sanctions and pressure continue to be applied.

North Korea defends its weapons programs as essential to counter U.S. aggression, saying regular war drills between the United States and the South are preparations for invasion. The South hosts 28,500 U.S. troops, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war.

North Korean leader's sister to visit South Korea for winter Olympics

KONFRONTASI-North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s 28-year-old sister will make her debut on the world stage when she visits South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics on Friday, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.

Pyongyang told Seoul that Kim Yo Jong would accompany Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s nominal head of state, along with Choe Hwi, chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee, and Ri Son Gwon, who led inter-Korean talks last month, according to the ministry.

Kim Yo Jong would be the first member of the Kim family, born on the sacred Mount Paektu, which is a centrepiece of the North’s idolization and propaganda campaign, to cross the border to the South.

Her inclusion in the delegation is “meaningful” as she is not only the sister of the country’s leader but has a significant position as a senior official of the ruling Workers’ Party, the South’s presidential Blue House said.

“It shows the North’s resolve to defuse tension on the Korean peninsula,” Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told a news briefing.

But the trip could become a source of contention between Seoul and Washington, as she was blacklisted last year by the U.S. Treasury Department over human rights abuses and censorship, while Choe faces a travel ban under U.N. Security Council sanctions.

Kim Yo Jong is vice director of the party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, which handles ideological messaging through the media, arts and culture. Choe had previously worked for the same body.

In 2016, South Korea’s former spy chief said Kim Yo Jong was seen “abusing power”, punishing propaganda department executives for “minor mistakes”.

“One of the positives of her visit is that she is someone able to deliver a direct message on behalf of Kim Jong Un,” said Shin Beom-chul, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul.

“What is problematic is that she’s coming with Choe Hwi. ... This raises worries that North Korea likely intends to use this Olympics as a propaganda tool, rather than a possible opening to meaningful dialogue with South Korea.”

The opening ceremony will also be attended by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other world leaders.

 

Pence said after talks with Abe in Tokyo on Wednesday that Washington would soon unveil its toughest ever economic sanctions on North Korea, calling the country the “most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet”.

Choi Kang, vice president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said, ”The United States would be unhappy to see South Korea trying to undermine all the rigid sanctions that it had worked so hard to put in place by granting exemptions for the sake of the Olympics.

“Personally, Pence would feel uncomfortable just being in the same place with the North Koreans.”

China says to ban export of more dual-use goods to North Korea

KONFRONTASI-China released a further list of goods banned for export to North Korea on Monday, saying the items could be used to build weapons of mass destruction, amid a standoff between North Korea and the United States over its weapons programs.

China has released several such lists in recent years as North Korea steps up it nuclear and missile tests. China says it is doing its duty to help enforce the increasingly tough U.N. sanctions.

White House denies claim that attacking North Korea would help GOP in midterms

KONFRONTASI-The White House is denying the claim that a US National Security Council (NSC) official suggested that a preemptive strike on North Korea could help the Republican Party in the midterm elections.

North Korea hits back at U.S., calls Trump administration 'racist'

KONFRONTASI-North Korea struck back at the United States on Wednesday, accusing the Trump administration of being a billionaires’ club that harbors a “policy of racism” while denying freedom of the press and health coverage to citizens.

The “White Paper on Human Rights Violations in the U.S. in 2017”, was issued by the Institute of International Studies in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and circulated by its diplomatic mission in Geneva.

North Korea sends rare announcement to all Koreans, calls for unification

KONFRONTASI-North Korea sent a rare announcement addressed to “all Koreans at home and abroad” on Thursday, saying they should make a “breakthrough” for unification without the help of other countries, its state media said.

It said all Koreans should “promote contact, travel, cooperation between North and South Korea” while adding Pyongyang will “smash” all challenges against reunification of the Korean peninsula.

North Korea rejects U.S. accusation, says it is not linked to any cyber attacks

KONFRONTASI- A spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry said on Thursday Pyongyang is not linked to any cyber attacks, the North’s first response since the United States publicly blamed it for a massive worldwide cyber security breach.

“As we have clearly stated on several occasions, we have nothing to do with cyber attack and we do not feel a need to respond, on a case-by-case basis, to such absurd allegations of the U.S.,” the spokesman said, according to the North’s official KCNA news agency.

South Korea, U.S. launch air drills amid North Korean warnings of nuclear war

KONFRONTASI-The United States and South Korea went ahead with large-scale joint aerial drills on Monday, a move North Korea had said would push the Korean peninsula to “the brink of nuclear war”, ignoring calls from Russia and China to call them off.

The drills come a week after North Korea said it had tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States as part of a weapons program that it has conducted in defiance of international sanctions and condemnation.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said it was “regrettable” that all parties had not “grasped the window of opportunity” presented by two months of relative calm before the North’s most recent test.

China and Russia had proposed that the United States and South Korea stop major military exercises in exchange for North Korea halting its weapons programs. Beijing formally calls the idea the “dual suspension” proposal.

The annual U.S.-South Korean drill, called Vigilant Ace, will run until Friday, with six F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to be deployed among the more than 230 aircraft taking part.

North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country called U.S. President Donald Trump “insane” on Sunday and said the drills would “push the already acute situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war”.

F-35 fighters will also join the drills, which will include the largest number of 5th generation fighters ever to have taken part, according to a South Korea-based U.S. Air Force spokesman.

Around 12,000 U.S. service members, including from the Marines and Navy, will join South Korean troops. Aircraft taking part will be flown from eight U.S. and South Korean military installations.

South Korean media reports said B-1B Lancer bombers could join the exercise this week. The U.S. Air Force spokesman could not confirm the reports.

Trump said last week that additional major sanctions would be imposed on North Korea after Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missile test.

Earlier last month, Trump put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that allows the United States to impose more sanctions.

Russia has accused the United States of trying to provoke North Korean leader Kim Jong Un into “flying off the handle” over his missile program to hand Washington a pretext to destroy his country.

Speaking at a news briefing in Beijing, Wang said China consistently opposed any behavior that elevated tensions.

“And measures that don’t abide by or are outside the UN Security Council resolutions lack basis in international law and damage the rights of United Nations members,” Wang said when asked about the prospect of further U.S. sanctions against North Korea.

China’s Air Force said on Monday that its surveillance aircraft had in recent days conducted drills in the Yellow Sea and East China Sea to “improve combat-readiness and safeguard the country’s strategic interests”.

The aircraft took a flight path not previously flown to regions they had never previously operated in, and coordinated with fighter jets, alert aircraft and guided missile forces, spokesman Shen Jinke said, according to a post on the Air Force’s official microblog.

The joint exercises between South Korea and United States are designed to enhance readiness and operational capability and to ensure peace and security on the Korean peninsula, the U.S. military had said before the drills began.

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